First US Nuclear Power Closures in 15 Years Signal Wider Industry Problems

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From The Guardian

By Elizabeth Douglass

A string of plant closures, project cancellations and other setbacks has raised new doubts about the future of nuclear power in the United States, but there’s disagreement about whether the retrenchment will be limited and temporary or the beginning of a broad and permanent decline.

Renewed safety concerns and reinvigorated local opposition have played a role in the industry’s recent troubles. But the most potent foe—and the primary force behind the spate of closures and abandoned projects—is economic.

The industry’s run of bad news includes:

• The early closure of four nuclear power plants. Two of the plants, the Vermont Yankee reactor and Wisconsin’s Kewaunee reactor, were felled by stiff competition. One plant, San Onofre in California, was shuttered amid safety concerns and severely damaged steam generators. And the other, Florida’s Crystal River, was done in by structural damage.

• An announcement that Électricité de France SA, the world’s largest nuclear plant operator, would withdraw from its joint venture with Exelon Corp. The venture’s three nuclear plants—Calvert Cliffs in Maryland and New York’s R.E. Ginna and Nine Mile Point—will be run by Exelon. The French company had invested billions of dollars to expand into the United States.

• Duke Energy Corp.’s decision to shelve plans for two reactors in Levy County, Fla. (in addition to permanently closing Crystal River).

• A June 2012 court ruling that blocked the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission from issuing new reactor licenses or renewals until it sufficiently assesses the risks of storing spent radioactive fuel at nuclear plant sites.

• The cancellation this year of at least five projects that would have boosted the power output of existing reactors.

• Long delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns for ongoing construction of new reactors in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

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